by Quentin Kopp
Misuse of transit dollars
Deceased one-time U.S. Sen. Daniel Moynihan of New York observed on March 7, 1976: “Somehow liberals have been unable to acquire from life what conservatives seem to be endowed with at birth, namely, a healthy skepticism of the power of government agencies to do good.”
On the Nov. 6, ballot there will be an initiative (Prop. 6) to repeal an 11-cent 2017 gas tax increase passed by the legislature and governor. The last state gas tax increase resulted from my 1989 Senate legislation, raising the tax by 8 cents per gallon by 1993. That money was used as intended for building and maintaining highways, roads and streets.
The 2017 increase renders California’s gas tax the highest in the nation and flaunts the 1922 legislative decision to finance highways, roads and streets by a “user fee.”
Such user tax revenue should be deposited in the State Highway Fund, not the General Fund, and not used for public transit, the DMV or California Highway Patrol.
Before 1922, highways were funded by general obligation bond issues three times, which meant borrowing money and repaying it with twice the principal in interest debt. In 1988, to avoid a gas tax increase, a Republican governor attempted to pass another state bond issue, which voters rejected. Within the last decade, however, state politicians have used gas tax revenue for purposes other than highways, roads and streets, including state general fund spending.
Caltrans cannot be trusted with efficiency; California’s highway construction costs per lane mile are 62 percent more than the national average, engineering costs 42 percent more, and maintenance workers obtain a third more pay than the national average.
The 2018-19 state budget shows motor vehicle-related taxes and fees of $30.8 billion, of which the legislative analyst estimates only $8.6 billion are used for streets, roads and highways, including $1.1 billion on transportation bonds, some of which were used for non-highway purposes, like a new Orwellian category named “active transportation,” whatever that means.
Legislators last year diverted $1 billion from gas tax revenue to the General Fund, thus stealing more than $400 million annually from city streets and county roads, and transferring much of it to “cap-and-trade.” Bear in mind the legislative analyst four years ago concluded that Caltrans is overstaffed by 3,500 full-time employees, costing more than $500 million per year.
Transbay Transit Center
Last month’s homeric political event was opening the Transbay Terminal, originally represented to taxpayers as a modern facility for Caltrain and high-speed rail, plus buses. Past and present politicians celebrated with vanity a project begun more than a decade ago, which far exceeded its public cost representations.
The director of the SF Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) conferred upon morning newspaper readers a polemic about our public transit systems, with the usual pap. The vaunted Transbay Transit Center, usable only by buses, constitutes essentially a real estate project for big names, like Salesforce, with an underground “train box” that bled state taxpayers $400 million from the 2008 High- Speed Rail Authority’s general obligation bond issue and will never be used. Why? Extending Caltrain tracks 1.3 miles underground from Fourth and Townsend streets will cost more than $4 billion in non-existing money, which was never mentioned by the SFMTA’s justifiably embattled director because of embarrassment.
His other bloated project, the Central Subway, peddled as a $1.6 billion undertaking, which the Wall Street Journal five years ago dubbed the billion-dollar-a-mile subway, will cost $2.5 billion, an unspoken truth.
San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin correctly notes that without high speed rail and Caltrain, the Transbay Terminal “will go down as the most expensive bus terminal in the history of humankind.”
The so-called high-speed train under construction near Madera to Wasco in Kern County (not Bakersfield) isn’t high speed; it’s conventional diesel rail from the state government, which deludes the public and media. Moreover, state law now prohibits tracks dedicated to genuine high-speed rail on the San Francisco Peninsula and in the Los Angeles Basin.
State taxpayers have been deceived. The emperor has no clothes.
Suing the federal government
Many citizens have complimented me upon suing the U.S. Secret Service for refusing to comply with my February request for public records demonstrating the amount of taxpayer money spent on agents who devoted more than a week to Donald Trump, Jr.’s trip to India to foster purchases of Trump properties there.
As a taxpayer, I resent spending federal revenue on Trump, Jr.’s private business.
Obviously, obtaining those records will enable taxpayer litigation to recover the federal treasury money wasted on private business activities in India. I’m informed records of other taxpayer waste on Trump, Jr.’s business trips will expose more disgraceful misuse of tax extractions.
Consider also former President Barack Obama’s business deals at taxpayer expense. The Obama Presidential Center was originally publicized as funded with private money. No more. Illinois taxpayers will expend more than $174 million for reconfiguring roadways and public transit and Illinois politicians want $139 million more in federal money.
The Obama Center won’t be operated by the National Archives and Records Administration. Presidential archives won’t even be deposited there. The Obama Center paid the City of Chicago $1 to “rent” 19.3 acres of city land. It’s no wonder William Randolph Hearst opined: “A politician will do anything to keep his job, even become a patriot.”
Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor and state senator, retired judge and current member of the SF Ethics Commission.